I’m going to be truly Canadian here and apologize before I start this message. Because it is a bit of a rant. I really can’t help but rant here because supporting kids to enjoy healthy eating (from the very first bite) is my life’s passion. So, if hearing a person speak strongly about their passion isn’t your cup of tea. Then feel free to delete this. I won’t mind. But, if you want to know what I really feel about picky eating, then do read on because I’m being completely unfiltered here (maybe the heat’s making me a bit cranky?) Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about “curing” picky eaters.
Sure, I talk about “preventing” picky eating and “stopping” picky eating. Perhaps it’s just a lesson in semantics. But the word “cure” creates a strong, specific, emotional reaction in me.
We fundraise to “cure” cancer.
We search for a “cure” to AIDS.
We look to “cure” people of things that are fundamentally wrong. Un-natural states. Diseases.
Picky eating is stressful – for kids and their parents. It can have negative consequences on a child’s nutritional health. It’s absolutely worth intervening.
But, picky eating isn’t a disease.
Picky eating is a combination of a child’s temperament, developmental stage, and how we adults react to it.
Let me highlight this with a less emotional example – crawling. Is a child “cured” of crawling when they learn to walk? No. Crawling is a developmental stage. Some children crawl earlier. Some crawl later. And, some kids skip crawling all together, moving from scooting (or some other version of dragging themselves around) to walking.
And, how do kids move past crawling? Is it something that we adults do to them?
Kids are internally driven to learn to walk. We play an important role by creating an environment where they are encouraged to practice and build the skills that lead to walking. We allow them to pull themselves up on the furniture and “cruise” around from chair to table to sofa. We hold their hands above their heads as they take wobbly steps. We pull them up and bounce them on our laps. Some kids are more adventuresome in learning to walk. Some kids are more cautious. Both are normal, but we take different actions to support them to move ahead at their own speeds.
The same is true with eating. While kids are in a stage where they’re both loving power struggles and wary of foods, they’re also being internally driven to master new skills and grow up. We can create an environment where they are given the opportunities and are encouraged to try new foods. Or, we can (inadvertently) create an environment where they are prevented from learning to walk and kept in the crawling stage – i.e. where commonly used strategies with food actually fuel picky eating behaviour. We can restrict an adventuresome child to move too slow – causing them to rebel. And, we can force a cautious kid to move to quickly – causing them to either push back or withdraw.
So in a nutshell, no. I don’t believe that picky eaters can be “cured”.
What I know is that we can create an environment with food that supports kids to move through this stage with ease and grace, in a way that sets them up to have lifelong healthy eating habits. And, ensuring that they get the nutrition that they need. All while:
- Reducing the stress for everyone in the family,
- Celebrating and loving each child for who they are (adventuresome and cautious) and,
- Creating enjoyable family time at the table.